Paulinho's late winner saves Barcelona, which loses Dembele to injury

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/paulinho-982338/" data-ylk="slk:Paulinho">Paulinho</a>, left, scored a late winner as <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/barcelona/" data-ylk="slk:Barcelona">Barcelona</a> escaped Getafe with three points. (Reuters)
Paulinho, left, scored a late winner as Barcelona escaped Getafe with three points. (Reuters)

Why did Barcelona buy Paulinho for nearly $48 million this summer? It’s a question both fans and media have been asking for weeks.

Say this for the Brazilian midfielder: He offered some semblance of an answer on Saturday.

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Paulinho’s slick far-post finish in the 84th minute snatched three points for Barcelona in a 2-1 win over a scrappy and brave Getafe side, keeping the Catalans atop the La Liga table.

The win came at a cost, however, as ostensible Neymar replacement Ousmane Dembele had to be substituted off in the 25th minute due to a hamstring problem. The club said more tests will be needed to determine the extent of the injury.

Lionel Messi began the sequence that led to the game-winning goal with a nice anticipatory ball forward to Paulinho, who cut through a pocket of space in the Getafe defense and absorbed some contact before powering home his shot from a difficult angle:

It was an unfortunate result for the hosts, whose shape was excellent most of the match, contracting to stifle Barca’s build-ups and expanding with great pace on the counter.

Barcelona wasn’t exactly a bystander in Getafe’s success, either. Apart from some moments of individual skill, the attacking contingent, headlined by Messi, Luis Suarez and Dembele, seemed uncoordinated and unsure of itself with players bunching up in the same areas and failing to proffer the kind of gorgeous interplay for which Barcelona is known.

Getafe actually generated more dangerous moments in the first half. About 10 minutes in, Gerard Pique brought down Jorge Molina a whisker outside of the penalty area, and a few minutes later, Gaku Shibasaki played a cross that deflected off Pique and trickled just wide of the net.

Shibasaki scored the first goal Barcelona has conceded in the league this season by catching a volley as cleanly as one could dream:

Not long after, Getafe goalkeeper Vicente Guaita took to the sky to stop a spectacular Messi free kick:

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde nailed his substitutions after halftime. He turned things more attack-minded by bringing on Denis Suarez for Andres Iniesta, then replaced the increasingly volatile Ivan Rakitic with Paulinho.

Suarez leveled the match in the 62nd minute with an incredibly composed finish into the left-hand side of the net off a cut-back ball by Sergi Roberto:

Thanks to stumbles by Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, Barcelona has already built a healthy lead in La Liga, a pace it must maintain since the Madrid clubs figure to find their top form sooner than later.

Barca nearly stumbled against Getafe on Saturday. Paulinho ultimately kept them upright.

Joey Gulino is the editor of FC Yahoo and moonlights as a writer. Follow him on Twitter at @JGulinoYahoo.

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